Fallows On The News: Iraq Drawdown And More The last U.S. combat brigade rolled out of Iraq this week, but where does that leave the 50,000 American troops who are still there? Guest host Audie Cornish talks with our regular news analyst, James Fallows of The Atlantic, about that and other big stories in the news this week.

Fallows On The News: Iraq Drawdown And More

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We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

And this past week, the United States said it ended combat operations in Iraq, seven years and five months after they began.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan): We're not leaving. There are 50,000 U.S. troops that are remaining in Iraq, albeit in a support role rather than in a leading combat role. But that's enormous capability.

CORNISH: General David Petraeus, speaking with CBS News last night.

James Fallows is national correspondent for The Atlantic. And he joins us most Saturdays.

Jim, hello again.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, The Atlantic): Greetings, Audie. Nice to talk to you.

CORNISH: So what kind of withdrawal leaves 50,000 troops behind?

Mr. FALLOWS: I guess it's the withdrawal which is the best of American options at the moment. People who were promoting the need for war against Saddam Hussein eight years ago would barely have predicted that this much longer, there'd still be tens of thousands of U.S. troops there for the foreseeable future.

So it is a way to maintain as much semblance of peace and order as the U.S. can while the still-in-formation Iraqi government, and the still-being-trained Iraqi forces can try to do whatever the country will do in the years ahead.

CORNISH: And I want to ask you more about that. Looking forward, what do you see as some of the challenges for maintaining whatever hard-fought stability there is in that country?

Mr. FALLOWS: Well, for decades before Saddam Hussein came to power, there were deep ethnic and regional rivalries and schisms within that country, which have not gone away - and if anything, have become more intense in the last seven or eight years of bloodshed.

And so the challenge for the United States, and for the people in Iraq, is to find ways to make the Kurdish population feel that its rights are being respected, its quasi-independence is being accommodated, its resource and oil wealth is properly accounted for; and the Sunni and Shiite parts of the population have whatever power balance that they can arrange without the U.S. directly intervening.

CORNISH: Jim, two years ago, a lot of people voted for President Obama based on his promises to end the war in Iraq. I mean, is this really what they voted for?

Mr. FALLOWS: I think - well, let's put ourselves in the position of the Obama administration. The case they can make is this: Number one, clearly, both in the primary campaign against Hillary Clinton and in the general election against John McCain, Barack Obama was the anti-Iraq-War and wrap-up-the-Iraq-commitment candidate.

And so we can say, less than two years after the election, there is an official end to U.S. combat presence in Iraq - even though, of course, there are still tens of thousands of U.S. troops there.

And probably, if you said, well, look, we're still there, he would say, we can't undo the last decade of history. And when you invade a country, there are long-term consequences, which you can't just will away.

So I think the administration can plausibly claim that within the realm of the possible, he has, in fact, fulfilled his campaign commitment. And I think then, this questioning would move to the expanded U.S. presence in Afghanistan, which candidate Obama said yes, was the good war, the war we should have concentrated on. But I think there, there's a greater sort of dissonance between the way he sounded in the campaign and what he is being forced to do, or choosing to do, as president.

CORNISH: I want to talk more about the president because this week, the Pew Research Center released a study saying that nearly one in five Americans that they surveyed believe that President Obama is a Muslim. And he's not, of course, but it seems like doubts about this just seem to gain strength as time goes on through this administration.

Mr. FALLOWS: What I like about certain news stories, including this one, is that you can use them as occasions for almost anything that's interesting in American politics.

For example, if you think, as I do, that the popularity or unpopularity of presidents is driven overwhelmingly by the unemployment rate, you can say that as the economy has faltered, many accusations against the president, including this one, have gained prominence. Another line of reasoning you can say is what this shows about the shifting sort of geography and architecture of the new system - where it's not simply that people have different opinions - as they always have - but they're increasingly having different facts.

And then you can wonder about what it is in American life, whether this is any different in terms of our educational standards and how we process facts than ever before. And maybe not. There was a substantial body of opinion back before there were opinion polls, suggesting that Abraham Lincoln was descended from the apes or some kind of primate - in the 1860 election. Some of FDR's detractors said that among his problems was that he was Jewish. And of course, people were afraid of a Catholic in the White House, thought that John F. Kennedy was taking orders straight from the Vatican. So there is a long history here.

On the other hand, the same Pew poll shows that the age group which is most convinced that President Obama is a Muslim is the youngest one, people between age 18 and 29. So I'm not sure, exactly, what that bodes for America's future.

CORNISH: That's James Fallows, national correspondent with The Atlantic and our regular news analyst.

Jim, thanks so much.

Mr. FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Audie.

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